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  • Writer's pictureAman Mehta

A Brief History of the Piazza della Repubblica in Rome

What is the Piazza della Repubblica?

Piazza della Repubblica is an impressive 19th-century piazza in Rome that follows the perimeter of an ancient ‘exedra’ (semi-circular seating area).

Piazza della Repubblica at night

Piazza della Repubblica History

Facing the ancient Baths of Diocletian this large circular public square illustrates the architectural stratification of Rome. Built in the late 19th century, the piazza's design follows the outline of the external perimeter of the bath’s exedra, a semi-circular seating area that served as a theatre. This exedra gave the square its former name, Piazza Esedra.

Begun just before the turn of the 4th century AD, the baths (which were the largest in all of imperial Rome) were completed in less than eight years by Diocletian and his co-emperor Maximian, and many of the enormous walls from the original baths still line the streets of this part of the city. Over the centuries, the impressive bathing complex was plundered for its materials, whilst entirely new buildings were constructed on its site.

In the late 19th century, Gaetano Koch, the era’s most acclaimed architect who collaborated on the Vittoriano and designed the splendid Palazzo Koch (now headquarters of the Bank of Italy), was commissioned to construct a grand public space shortly after the unification of Italy. With the rapid increase in train travel at the time, the site was the main entry point to the capital, and so Koch designed a fittingly grand and imposing square. His sweeping arcades (to the west) are a reference to the Baroque style squares found across the city, particularly St Peter’s Square in the Vatican, and reconstruct the form of the seating area that once stood here. Koch’s design, which features large arches and small windows all framed by columns, was modelled on the Colosseum.

At the centre of the square stands the Fontana delle Naiadi (or Fountain of the Naiads). Commissioned in 1870 by Pope Pius IX to commemorate the creation of a new aqueduct, the fountain certainly raised eyebrows when it was unveiled at the beginning of the 20th century. Sicilian sculptor Mario Rutelli transformed the previously unadorned fountain with four bronze sculptures depicting four Naiads, or water nymphs from Greek mythology, who surround the sea-god Glaucus wrestling a large fish. Initially the city was shocked by the nudity of the four eroticised nymphs and it refused to unveil Rutelli’s masterpiece. For a month the fountain stood hidden behind a large wooden fence until one night a group of students decided to tear it down. Since then, the Roman public and tourists alike have been able to enjoy the piazza’s glorious centrepiece.

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